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A veteren audiophile seeking help in computer audiophilia


axel
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Hi all,

 

Recently I laid my eyes on "computer audiophilia" and streaming-based media.

I own a pretty good CD player and Vinyl playback system.

I think I'm mentally ready to enter the computer/streaming-based digital domain.

My current budget for a complete solution is circa $6000.

My aim is to slowly enter the digital files/streams domain and "exit" the standard good ol' CD playback system.

 

Before you jump in and assist me in reaching my goal - I have a few requests/demands:

1) I currently own a standard (4 years old) desktop with a non-wireless router/modem - so I'll need the complete solution (which will probably include an addtional laptop/desktop)

2) I'm looking for a "plug n' play" solution (or the closest it can get to that)

3) Currently, my listening room does not have any computers/servers/laptops in it - let's try and keep it that way... I've seen people using an IPOD touch to control their media (that's a cool solution!)

4) I have ~1500 CDs - so I'll also need an easy, "insert n' click" reaping software

 

Thanks!

 

P.S.

My CD player costs ~$5000 - so I'm looking for a solution that'll equal it and probably better it!

 

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First question:

 

Are you a fiddler, or an Apple hater?

 

If so, base your system on a PC, if not, I'd recommend Mac.

 

Since you don't have a legacy (aka S/PDIF) DAC, I'd recommend you consider an Async USB or Firewire DAC.

 

Weiss and Metric Halo make the highest quality Firewire-based DACs. Wavelength and Ayre make the 'best' Async USB DACs. If using Firewire or USB, there's no need to buy an expensive Lynx soundcard to install in your computer.

 

Others (continue to) recommend the top notch S/PDIF DACs, and these are useful if you plan to use a transport as well as a computer, but neither coax or AES S/PDIF are a native computer interface, and for highest quality, you'll need the aforementioned Lynx card, and (most likely) a larger, more expensive, noisier desktop computer with PCI slot (as opposed to mac Mini or Macbook Pro).

 

Most don't consider TOSlink interfaces (which are native on all Mac computers) for highest quality playback.

 

You can allocate the majority of your budget on the DAC, and purchase a Mac Mini (or PC) for several hundred dollars.

 

You may want to reserve some budget ($300 or so) for a solid state hard drive once you get your computer set up.

 

This is not gospel, just some guidance to get you started.

 

clay

 

 

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Considering your requirement, a good place to start would be (IMO)

 

Mac Mini or MacBook running iTunes and Amarra (Mini version may suit unless you have strong desire for 24/192 files). Link this to a Drobo files storage - start with 2x 1TB and can easily expand. I would use iTunes' inbuilt CD transfer but make sure you turn error correction

on and tell it to save files as AIFF - no point in using compression unless you have a particular reason to.

 

For DAC, investigate Weiss or Metric Halo as a starting point - both via FireWire. Wavelength and Ayre are good for USB connected DACs. The DACs will vary in soun so try to get some demos and read reviews. If you don't like these then options exist for linking legacy (SPDIF) to a computer but a direct FireWire or USB DAC is simpler solution.

 

Generally I agree with all clay said - there is also a post arou d asking the "PC or Mac question" which has my own more detailed thoughts to the question.

 

Eloise

 

 

 

Eloise

---

...in my opinion / experience...

While I agree "Everything may matter" working out what actually affects the sound is a trickier thing.

And I agree "Trust your ears" but equally don't allow them to fool you - trust them with a bit of skepticism.

keep your mind open... But mind your brain doesn't fall out.

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Not sure of their cost in USA, but your alternatives to a Mac Mini (or PC) solution is to look at the Linn streamers, or Naim HDX systems.

 

Eloise

 

Eloise

---

...in my opinion / experience...

While I agree "Everything may matter" working out what actually affects the sound is a trickier thing.

And I agree "Trust your ears" but equally don't allow them to fool you - trust them with a bit of skepticism.

keep your mind open... But mind your brain doesn't fall out.

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Will your 6k budget include everthing like the pc, player, dac, storage...? Post the specs on your old machine! Do you have a tv in the audio room!

 

Anyway, I have an old single core laptop running production in the back room. No need to go crazy in that dept. The ripping software is pretty easy on the machine. I bought an external pioneer cd/dvd drive for ripping (the laptop vibrates to much) and a drobo nas to store the music, pictures, home video, movies, files..... You could bypass the nas with a large case and internal storage, but you have a large collection and should really look at that for capacity and backup space.

 

Your a prime canidate for the Perfect Wav DAC around 3k as it will pick up the files from a nas (option available later this year) on a wired network. You will be well under your 6k with a fantastic product and have cash for the nas and upgrade cables or what ever. One con is that a small sceen to access a large collection might be a pain.

 

If I could convince you to place the pc in the room you now have a bunch more options. We play with things like the drives, the fan speeds and insulation and the units are pretty quiet. The top gun pc with the lynx aes16 audio card and the Berkely Alpha DAC will place you somewhere over your budget and is pretty hard to beat. Is selling your player to fund this an option?

 

dbpoweramp has a mass ripping option.

 

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"3) Currently, my listening room does not have any computers/servers/laptops in it - let's try and keep it that way... I've seen people using an IPOD touch to control their media (that's a cool solution!)"

 

Is keeping computers out of your listening room an absolute requirement for you? The reason I ask is that this will limit your options greatly. Unless you have the flexibility to locate the computer in a room next door to your listening room - in fact probably directly on the other side of the wall where your dac / amp are located - then you'll be stuck with streaming solutions. Sure you can get longer usb and firewire cables, but nowhere near the length of ethernet.

 

This isn't bad in itself (see above post for suggestions) but, for example, if the ipod touch based control system was Apple's Remote application controlling iTunes, this in turn limits you to Airport Express and toslink connection to a dac, which in turn means limited bit rates. My gut feeling is that although this it won't be good enough for you to replace your cd player.

 

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Vortecjr - good suggestion on the PWD. Very simple and easy to use solution (digital player, DAC, Preamp) for what many who have listened to it consider to be a fantastic playback device for redbook (and hirez) material. Once you add the upcoming Bridge option for connecting to a DLNA NAS device, could suit OP's needs nicely when paired with something like the RipNAS device (regular or Statement) for ripping and storage. I will add having read the forum comments over at PS Audio, they do plan to have an elegant remote available for it as well so you don't have to deal with the little screen on the unit all the time.

 

http://www.ripnas.com/

http://www.ripnas.com/statement.html

 

 

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I sort of glossed over the NOT in the music room aspect.

 

A Mac Mini is QUITE unobtrusive in a music room, being very quiet, and very small, but you'll also be adding a DAC.

 

The general consensus (at least the one I agree with :)) seems to be that wired connections between computer and DAC are currently offering the highest quality playback. There are exceptions, but I think they are pricier than necessary so I'd look there after considering the headless computer route.

 

What many do, is to put a headless (i.e. no Monitor) Mac Mini near their music playing system, and rely on an ipod touch (or iphone) and/or a laptop computer (I use a Macbook Air - double duty for internet surfing & work) with remote screen sharing to control the Mac Mini. The Screen Sharing software is built-in on the Mac, very easy and efficient, assuming use of a wireless network is available.

 

IOW, no monitor/keyboard/mouse is required near the music system, just a small footprint computer.

 

Another option - particularly for those undecided about long-term use of computers - is to use a laptop (such as Macbook Pro) with 15 ft Firewire cable connected to the DAC. Some don't like possible fan noise from laptops any where near their listening position.

 

Clay

 

 

 

 

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the rip nas is "the bomb" to quote our former member "Steve". It also uses the dbpoweramp as its engine. So a perfect wav dac and ripnas in the main room. I guess you would need a small network switch to hook the two together. Not sure if the ripnas can store hi-res files....does anyone know?

 

ps thanks for the post on the intel ssd

 

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yes, the RipNAS can store and stream hires - I had confirmed with Spoon when I looked at it a little while back. It just requires that you browse into the storage device from a computer and copy the files into the device (presumably using the same folder/file structure that RipNAS/dbpoweramp use in storage).

 

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"It just requires that you browse into the storage device from a computer and copy the files into the device...". This is copying not streaming and requires that the rendering device have local storage. Most the networked renderers mentioned in this thread (e.g. the Linn DS devices and the PWD) do not have local storage. The RipNAS is based on Windows Home Server and I'm haven't found a spec on the types of audio files it will stream. Most networked renderers accept only PCM data which requires that the decoding (e.g. FLAC -> PCM) take place at the server.

 

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Good question/point. Spoon had just indicated that you need to drop the files onto the RipNAS hard drives. When it's recognized as a DLNA device I'm assuming the remote player only pulls the data files in whatever format they are in and converts as appropriate. PS Audio PWD only reads WAV files right now (could already have changed by now, but initially was the case), and apparently with the Bridge they are planning to be able to have it stream/pull files in AIFF, FLAC, WAV, ALAC, MP3, etc. from the PWD/Bridge and then convert to i2s and send to the internal DAC reclocked, etc.

If one's computer is a Mac and you bought some hires files and you want to drop them into the RipNAS, one of the complaints I've heard is that it's difficult to get the RipNAS to mount as a drive to be able to copy them over, however no problem from windows (due to the Windows Home Server OS on the RipNAS apparently). Getting at/beyond my knowledge of it at this point as that's about as far as I took it in terms of researching how the two would pair.

 

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Still trying to process the amount of information I've been given (I've also browsed the website and looked into some of the "tutorials").

 

So I understood a few basic things that most of you agree on:

- Using a firewire/USB based DAC is the simplest solution due to the fact that coax/AES are not native computer interfaces and therefore will require an additional PCI card

- Recommended DACs are: Weiss, Metric Halo, Ayre and Wavelength (how about the new Chord QBD76?)

 

Regarding the PC/Laptop solution:

1) If I decide to purchase a Mac Mini will I need an additional external monitor to control it or just an IPOD touch will suffice?

2) I've noticed that the "standard" (non-pro) MacBook has a firewire 400 connection - will it be able to handle high res streaming (24bit/192kHz)?

 

A few answers to your questions:

1) I don't care if the PC-based system is a Mac or a "standard" PC

2) My old PC is a Pentium 4 3.2gHz (single core) with 2GB RAM and a 160GB HD

3) I don't have a TV in my listening room

4) I will not sell my current CD player to fund this purchase (will the external DAC "upgrade" my current CD player as well?)

 

And a few more questions :):

How do the likes of the Naim HDX and the Linn DS solutions (also mentioned in this thread) - compare to the suggested solutions?

 

Thanks again!!

 

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If you buy a mac mini you will need a screen and keyboard for initial set-up , but you can use a TV or even a USB digital picture frame thingy. Listen to as many dacs as you can, I believe you will find the sound quality equals or surpasses that of your current cdp. Regarding Linn's streaming solutions, I have read they are a little more tricky to set-up and I believe the dac is built in with no no upgrade path unless you sell the whole machine? I have heard various squeezeboxes and transporters and they can be improved with an external dac imho, let us know how you get on,Keith.

 

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Linn DS machines come in various configurations from the £1000 Sneaky (all in one with built in amp or line out to pre-amp) upto the Klimax DS at £14,000. Linn's claim is that they are equal in SQ to he equivelent priced CD player. With the Linn devices you'll need to budget for a NAS which supports UPnP (recommented are QNAP and the RipNAS servers) and a device for control - this can be a windows PC / laptop (an EeePC type netbook is sufficient or use an existing one); or you can control them with a variety of handheld devices including the iPod Touch. The lower end DS streamers can be connected to external DACs (all except Klimax I think). For more information a good place would be Linn's own forum which has a dedicated DS section.

 

The Naim HDX is a completely standalone unit though extra zones can be utilised via the NaimNet system if you later wish to. The HDX has an inbuilt drive, but a forthcoming update will allow ripping to a NAS to expand the capacity. Again the claim is that SQ is equal of a high end CD player (around Naim CDX2 level) and the HDX can be upgraded with an external PSU or the forthcoming Naim DAC (or other DACs for that matter).

 

Both are very good devices, but if you were happy with having a MacMini or similar in your listening room you can probably get equal quality for less.

 

Eloise

 

Eloise

---

...in my opinion / experience...

While I agree "Everything may matter" working out what actually affects the sound is a trickier thing.

And I agree "Trust your ears" but equally don't allow them to fool you - trust them with a bit of skepticism.

keep your mind open... But mind your brain doesn't fall out.

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Your $5000 CD player is getting pretty high end.

 

In my (admittedly limited) experience in computer audio, it will be a mission to equal let alone surpass your current front end playback (we're talking 44.1/16bit of course). Especially with the set up caveats you have laid out (and to a small extent the budget). To get the best from computer audio you really do need to 'go all out'.

 

Don't get my wrong as computer audio (CA) is 'the future' and currently it will get very close to your CD, however I see CA strengths in the versatility it brings.

 

If I were you I would check out the Naim hard disc option. I checked this out myself and liked it a lot....but for me it was OTT budget wise.

 

Personally though, since going the mac book route my lovely Musical Fidelity CDP has hardly been used except for when listening 'critically'.

 

If you go the computer route, spend as much as you can (and a bit more!) on the DAC.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Naim 282/250/hi-cap/cd5xs/dac/stageline, mac book pro/fidelia/amarra hifi/halide bridge, rega p3/24, focal utopia scala

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I respectfully disagree. We have head several computer based setups on both mid level systems and high end and ripped cd playback was most impressive. If we could give it an award it would be the most improved :) Yes Hi-re sounds fantastic, but the effect on 16/44.1 makes this all very very worth wild.

 

Axel, I think that the you could drop the Lynx AES16 audio card in that pc:) for around $650 then buy the topgun Berkely Alpha DAC for about $5000 and you would be golden! You would uses mediamonkey (recommended by Berkely) and it has an i-phone app as well. You will need storage as with any other computer system and for sure a small monitor or touch screen. You could put the pc in the next room if you insist. I also thing you will never use the cd player again after this setup:) This gives you the full spectrum of reach from 16/44.1 to 24/192 for playback. To be fair to my friends above I also think the firewire to Weiss is a good option.

 

 

 

 

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"I think that the you could drop the Lynx AES16 audio card in that pc:) for around $650 then buy the topgun Berkely Alpha DAC for about $5000 and you would be golden!"

 

JR,

Your suggestion of a Lynx AES 16 card seems rather SELF-promoting given your recent adds for just such a card, including the 'ad' directly beneath the post when I read it just now.

 

It's obviously Chris' call as to whether this is allowable, and under what conditions. It's my understanding that the policy calls for more specific questions being asked of a 'dealer/manufacturer' about their products before responses about their products are not considered overly promotional. Dan Weiss and Gordon seem the best at compliance.

 

Personally, I was starting to get a little annoyed at (some of) the recent posts from Ciamarra, and now this, which is rather blatant, in my opinion.

 

It's an unfortunate aspect of internet forum communities, that once one's motivations become financial, the 'advice' offered takes on a whole new meaning.

 

clay

 

 

 

 

 

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I am sorry you feel that way! I understand its a fine line and I am trying to be fair. I think its clear that I don't sell the card or the Berkely. Im telling him to use his PC and buy the card somewhere.

I honestly feel the card is great just like I fell the fire wire is good to. I also promoted a perfect wav dac yesterday, because it seems right for that guy and I have nothing to do with that. Axle is at a price point where this solution is right up his alley. If you may recall the symposium...where were the usb and firewire rigs? The top guys came out to here AES out of computers. Finally, I have been for some time back before our venture talking about the Lynx AES and the Berkely.

However, I will talk with Chris and see how we can improve.

 

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Axel says:

 

"Regarding the PC/Laptop solution:

1) If I decide to purchase a Mac Mini will I need an additional external monitor to control it or just an IPOD touch will suffice?

2) I've noticed that the "standard" (non-pro) MacBook has a firewire 400 connection - will it be able to handle high res streaming (24bit/192kHz)?"

 

re Q #1, As mentioned earlier, even without a TV near the Mac mini, you can still configure/manage/control it via the use of Screen Sharing IF you have another computer available to you (and a wireless network). You can use an iphone/ipod for music playback and the other computer for music file management (downloads, etc.). The computer can be anywhere else within your network's reach.

 

re Q #2, Firewire 400 is more than sufficient to handle streaming of 2 channels of any known bandwidth. It's used for MANY more (8 is common) channels in pro audio all the time.

 

I'd recommend one of the newest MacBook Pros - check the refurbished section on the online Apple Store site - which have the aluminum body, 7 hour batteries, firewire 800 (which will also support Firewire 3200 when it comes out, and is completely compatible with Firewire 400 except for the cable end), and most importantly, is expandable to 8Gb Ram.

 

http://store.apple.com/us/product/FB990LL/A?mco=MjE0NDk5Mw

 

Check the specific details of the model you buy. Apple dropped Firewire for several months (leading the pundits to call for the death of Firewire) and so the cheapest (refurbished) models don't always support Firewire, due to being old stock more so than being 'refurbished'.

 

Axel also says"

"A few answers to your questions:

1) I don't care if the PC-based system is a Mac or a "standard" PC

2) My old PC is a Pentium 4 3.2gHz (single core) with 2GB RAM and a 160GB HD

3) I don't have a TV in my listening room

4) I will not sell my current CD player to fund this purchase (will the external DAC "upgrade" my current CD player as well?)"

 

Item #1/2, this goes back to my original question. PCs are not much more difficult to set up but more knowledge IS required. If one wants to 'tinker' they will find wonderful opportunities with PCs, if one just wants to listen to music most will recommend a Mac, although some tinkering possibilities exist with Macs as well.

 

A Mac mini is the only store-bought computer I'm aware of that can be easily inserted into a music system without disrupting things noise-wise, space-wise, or visually. It's small, unobtrusive, and quiet.

 

item #3 Kudos

 

Question in #4, this is a significant requirement, which would change recommendations, so I'll expand on this one.

 

If you want to use your new DAC to potentially 'upgrade' your CD player you will be limited to DACs which provide 'legacy' interfaces, i.e. S/PDIF of some form, usually Coax with a single familiar RCA jack.

 

First off, perhaps you can share the name of your current CD player. This might help ascertain whether a DAC might improve upon it substantially. If there is NOT substantial improvement, I would recommend that you NOT limit yourself to S/PDIF DACs for the primary reason that - many CD players seem to gather dust as soon as a high quality computer audio playback is set up. You may not believe that, but it's pretty darn likely.

 

However, should you decide to go that route, there are very high quality S/PDIF DACs available. The Berkeley Alpha is very well known in this regard, and would probably sound wonderful to you, and has a decent chance of surpassing your CD player, I think. NOTE: you'd also need to add the Lynx card for around $700 or so, and the Mac Mini cannot support the Lynx card, so many use a desktop computer to connect to S/PDIF DACs.

 

It's my opinion that S/PDIF interface is being supplanted - in terms of highest potential sound quality - by interfaces that support Asynchronous data transfer, which allows the master clock to be placed in the DAC, e.g. Firewire and Async USB. Note, both of these interfaces are native to computers. S/PDIF is the preferred interface for connecting Transports to DACs, but only customized PC motherboards support S/PDIF natively (and I'd use a Lynx card, in any event, if I needed one).

 

I'd suggest that you think about the desire to connect your current CD player to a DAC, as this is the most important factor in your decision right now. The reason being, the audiophile S/PDIF DAC manufacturers currently tune their performance for the best S/PDIF sound (as opposed to the best available USB) and NONE (that I'm aware of) also support Firewire or Async USB.

 

On the other hand, pro audio Firewire DACS CAN often support S/PDIF interfaces - my Metric Halo ULN-2 does. I believe the Weiss DACS do as well. This fact is not often reported here, perhaps for the reason that if one chooses Firewire as their PRIMARY interface, the desire to purchase the Lynx card (or similar) to run S/PDIF as a secondary interface loses out in the budget. But this might be your best alternative, if you do want to maintain the option to use your CD player.

 

Listen to any of the Weiss DACs that support Firewire and S/PDIF (or Metric Halo ULN-8, or the Sonic Studio hardware, which is made by Metric Halo).

 

Hope this is helpful,

clay

 

 

 

 

 

 

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"I think its clear that I don't sell the card or the Berkely."

 

The only thing clear to me is that your business model seems to rely heavily on the proliferation (within the audiophile community) of Lynx cards. You're selling upgrades to Lynx cables, presumably solve the Lynx Hydra issue, and you're selling PC systems (NOT Mac :) ) that recommend Lynx cards. 'Lynx' practically jumps off the page at your website. :)

 

"where were the usb and firewire rigs?"

 

You'll have to ask Chris that. My belief is that it was probably due to a multitude of factors, but a primary one was perhaps the choice of Pacific Microsonics (now unavailable) DACs, due to the 'close' relationship between PM folks and some of the significant participants in the symposium. :)

 

As a reader of pro audio forums, I'm well aware of the reputation of the PM Model Twos, although I've never had the chance to listen to them. Chris' choice makes perfect sense to me given the circumstance, but not for a second do I think this is an indictment against USB or Firewire.

 

cheers,

clay

 

 

 

 

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Hi Guys - Let's clear this one up and move on to the fun part of our great hobby.

 

1. At the Symposium we also used an Ayre QB-9 asynchronous USB DAC and Sonic Model 304 (ULN-8) firewire DAC. These two were connected to a complete MBL system with Magico v3 loudspeakers. Sound quality = fabulous!

 

2. There does seem to be a bending of the rules lately when it comes to people promoting, directly or indirectly, products they sell. I've had conversations off-line with those people and expect things to straighten up. Nobody likes self promotion and in fact it hurts business in the long run. Nothing beats great products that get the masses talking. A single proprietor or large conglomerate really can't get ahead through self-promotion as it will backfire when everyone else speaks up against this marketing method.

 

I'm not pointing fingers at any single person or entity here, just leaving some thoughts about the situation in general.

 

Founder of Audiophile Style

Announcing The Audiophile Style Podcast

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As always, your response is timely and on point, and has much to do with the environment here at CA.

 

A bit more clarification - on what is allowed - for the benefit of the rest of us might be helpful.

 

EDIT: Some stuff snipped

 

thoughts,

clay

 

 

 

 

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Thanks for the clarifications. I had not read anywhere about the usb and firewire....I stand corrected!

I just removed my signature and reverted to my old name vortecjr. I think this will help. Its not so I can openly say things and hide, but to add one more level of seperation. Ultimately, your monitorig this and you will provide feedback. Clay I also would like your feedback as I have come to respect your input.

 

Clay, reach through my site and send me an e-mail so I can chat with you directly....thanks

 

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